“BUILDING MEMORIES”

JOSHUA 4

AUGUST 9, 2009

 

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Listen to these words from a fellow Presbyterian.  Tell me if you agree with him.  He writes,

 

            We will never be more alive in this life than we are right now.  One of the great biblical affirmations with which we begin many a worship service is the statement, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  A Christian is a “now” person.

 

            What do you think of his words?  “We will never be more alive in this life than we are right now ... a Christian is a “now” person.”

            That may be hard to believe because so many people refuse to live in the now.  For example, many people are “past oriented” not “present oriented.”  Nostalgia fuels their lives.  They yearn for a return to the “good old days” which often weren’t as good as they remember them to be.

            The old curmudgeon, Andrew Rooney, warns against this.  He said, “No one should spend too much time on memories.  Some people start doing that when they are twenty and never get over living in the past.”  He says, “The most interesting people I know don’t spend much time reminiscing.”

            On the other hand some people are so “future oriented” they don’t enjoy the present.  They are discontent with the present and want to change almost everything.  For them few things are sacrosanct.   They think, “There’s got to be a better way.”

            The problem, of course, with both past and future orientations is the danger of not fulling living in and embracing the present.  The present isn’t perfect, but neither was the past nor will the future this side of heaven.  A major biblical theme is that we are privileged to live in the present, one day at a time, claiming the Lord’s meaning and strength for each day.

            The fourth chapter of Joshua, however, reminds us that a basic component of life is a hope for the future that is based on the memories of the past, which in turn help bring meaning to the present.  Let me put it another way.  God gives us two major resources for living more fully in the present ... hope for the future and memories of God’s presence in the past.  This morning we will focus our attention on the memories from the past which enable us to live more fully today.

            Last Sunday we looked at one of the key events in the history of Israel, the crossing of the Jordan River.  Just as the Red Sea miracle changed Israel’s status from slave to free, so the Jordan River miracle, of Gods stopping the flow of the Jordan River, transformed Israel from a wandering band to a landed people, a nation, if you will.  This morning we focus our attention on what God told the people to do after crossing the river.  Before we get to that, however, I want to take a little detour.  I want to highlight something important in the chapter.  Look with me at verse 14.

 

            On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him, as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.

 

            This verse reminds us of a very important fact about God.  Are you ready?  Here it is: What God wants done God gets done.  In fact, if I had the money I would get a coffee mug for each one of us here with those words inscribed on the cup:  What God wants done God gets done.

            When Moses died, the people thought, “That’s it.  Our best days are behind us. It will never be this good again.  Now we will never get to the Promised Land.”  We often do that when we lose great leaders.   We think some people are indispensable to God.         Well, let me tell you.  Or more appropriately, let me remind you of the point here.  “What God wants done, God gets done.”  Moses the great leader has died.  Now what will the Israelites do?  Well, God raises Joshua to take his place, and before long Joshua is held in the same high esteem as was Moses.  God wanted the people in the Promised Land, and God will get the people in the Promised Land with our without Moses.  What God wants done, God gets done.  I like the way John Wesley put it.  He said, “God buries his workman and goes on with his work, hallelujah.”

            I think of the ministry of Robert Schuller.  He’s getting pretty old.  He’s only in the pulpit once a month now, and you may not know it but Schuller was often criticized as being too positive, of being too soft on sin, downplaying the negative.  What’s going to happen when that positive voice is silenced, when Schuller dies?  Well, have you ever heard of Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas?  He’s being criticized for the same things Robert Schuller was criticized for, for being too upbeat, and like Schuller he is drawing people to his church in the thousands.  What God wants done, God gets done.

            Moses was not indispensable and we aren’t indispensable.  God gets done what God wants done with or without us.   We need to get coffee mugs for everyone here and put that on the mug.  One of the greatest lies perpetrated on God’s people is we don’t do God’s work, it won’t get done.  If we don’t struggle with doing what God wants us to do, then its going to fall apart.  No, it’s not.  What God wants done, God will get done, with our without us.  So, relax.  Enjoy the journey.  Don’t be so uptight about making a mistake or dropping the ball.

            Ok, back to the main road for today.  The people have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  God performed a miracle to get them into the land.  God stopped the flow of the Jordan River, like God parted the Red Sea, and when they have successfully crossed the river, listen to what God tells them to do.

 

            When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’”

 

            Now, why would they be instructed to do such a thing?  Why carry twelve stones from the bottom of the River where the priests had stood with the Ark of the Covenant?  Well, Joshua explains.

 

            Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe.  Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you.  When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

 

            These stones shall be a memorial forever.  These stones will be an enduring sermon, directed not for the ears, but for the eyes.  They will serve as a reminder for future generations that Israel crossed the Jordan not because of its own ability, not because of its own strength, not because of its own cleverness, but because of God. 

            God gives us two major resources for living in the present.  God gives us promises for the future and God gives us memories from the past, both of which sustain us in the now.  And God tells the people to build a memory of what just happened.  This isn’t the first time God told his people to build a memory, and it won’t be the last.  For example, God gave Noah a rainbow as a reminder of God’s promise.  God gave Abraham and the Jews circumcision as a reminder of the covenant.  God gave the Israelites these stones and God gave bread and wine to remember him by.  Throughout the Bible God instructs his people to remember - not to dwell in the past - but to remember God’s mighty works.  In fact, we might go so far as to say that God encouraged people to do this because lapses of memory of what God had done and promised was often at the heart of Israel’s problems. 

            Well, this morning we don’t have any rocks to carry out of a river bed, yet let’s take the rest of our time to build memorials to God today, so that we will be reminded of what God has done in our lives.  Like our spiritual ancestors, when times get tough we tend to forget what God has done in our lives.  We can become so preoccupied with the immediate and our apparent lack of resources that we forget our present has a history.  We’ll take time this week to build a memorial because the next time things get tough, we can turn to our memorial, and remember what God has done and what God can do.  And using good trinitarian theology, let’s each of us, individually, this morning build three memorials.

            The first is a “places” memorial.  There are memories of God’s presence at places in our lives, that are every bit as spiritually significant as that pile of stones from the Jordan River.  Take our your worship bulletin and write “Places” and then write down some places where God has been present.  For example, for me there’s the dining hall at Camp Fox on Catalina Island where I committed my life to Christ at the age of 19.  There’s the Grandiew Library where God brought my life partner and my best friend, Trudy, into my life.  Trudy always jokes that I went to the library to study and she went to meet boys, and it worked, at least for us.  That library is a holy place for us, the place where God brought the two of us together.  I think of the parking lot at Fuller Seminary where I heard God tell me to go visit my dad at work, and I did, and he was hurting, feeling like an ineffective father after getting into a huge argument with my sister, and we had our first adult conversation of our lives, not parent-child, but friend to friend.  I could go on, but those are holy places for me, as holy as Joshua’s rock pile.

            Next, write “people” on your bulletin, and think of the living stones of God’s marvelous work in your life.  On my “people” list are Lloyd White, who led me to Christ, and “Bob Munger” who introduced me the significance of small group fellowship, my Aunt Gladys who taught me to pray the rosary during my Catholic days, my wife “Trudy” who is a constant encouragement to me when I doubt myself and my abilities, and I could go on, but you get the idea.

            Then, completing our trinitarian exercise, write “mementos” on the bulletin. These are things around us that we have collected over the years which remind us of God’s presence.  What would go on your “memento” pile?  Look around your house or office.  I think of the picture of our son, Joshua, playing volleyball at Camp Calvin Crest, the year Curt Hofer led him to Christ.  There’s the Celtic Cross from Waterford we bought in Ireland, reminding me of one of the great vacations of my life.  There’s this bible, yellowed by years of us, stained with dirt and oil from my fingers.  A lot of sermons have come out of this Bible.  It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.  I may have never told you this, but most Sunday nights I get a little blue.  I’m usually pumped after worship services, but later in the day I have a tendency to think, “Well, that’s the last sermon I’ll ever preach.  There’s no way I’ll have anything to say by next Sunday,” but this bible is a reminder that there were a number of Sundays I had something to say, and reminds me that God has been there in previous weeks and will probably show up this coming week.

            This week you may want to add to your pile of stones, the places, the people, the mementos.  And you may want to clean this list up and put it somewhere as a constant reminder to you.  Maybe on your bathroom mirror, or frame it and hang it in the study, or put it on the visor of your car.  Let these memories be a constant reminder to you of who you are, who God is, how far you have come and where you are going.  Let these memories of God’s presence help you to live more fully today.

            This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.